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LandScope, Freedom to Roam, Humans in Nature, and The City

The December/January issue of Adventure magazine has a great article, Don’t Fence Him In: From prisoner of Panama to power broker: Why Rick Ridgeway traded a life on the edge for a chance to reinvent the wilderness by Mark Sundeen (with photography by Robyn Twomey) about Rick Ridgeway, a guy Rolling Stone called the real Indiana Jones. Aside from the story about Mr. Ridgeway, I was fascinated with his concern for wildlife corridors, and how he has teamed with Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia to publicize their Freedom to Roam initiative. Freedom to Roam is a simple but big idea—parks and national forests do not provide adequate space for other species to flourish and to them we need to add wildlife migration corridors.  The article describes how Michael Soule, a professor at UC, began to realize that animal corridors were beginning to be compromised due to sprawl. Later, he founded the Wildlands Project to publicize the idea of wildlife linkages. Now, Ridgeway and Chouinard want to brand this idea of connected landscapes. Bravo!

I have in a pile next to my desk the latest National Geographic and in it I found what felt like a windfall apple—a Landscope America Natural States of America map from NatureServe. On one side, it has protected areas across the U.S., and on the other, open space that is threatened. I love the work these folks are doing.

Here you have complimentary projects focused on creating space for other creatures to flourish–uplifting, inspiring work. And, there are two other related trends that just make me sit back and wonder.

At Mount Desert Island, Maine, this summer, I found one of these compendiums of science and nature books at Port in the Storm bookstore—The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2006). One of the articles really intrigued me-an Orion piece by Mark Dowie titled Conservation Refugees, in which he describes the plight of the Batwa people’s ancestral territory—now comprised of the Mgahinga, the Echuya, and the Bwindi forest reserves. Dowie juxtaposes the concerns of global foundations, the planet’s largest conservation organizations, and corporations, against the plight of the Batwa people, and the efforts of initiatives focused on their demise such as the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping.

Market-based solutions, which may have been implemented with the best of social and ecological intentions, share a lamentable outcome, barely discernable behind a smoke screen of slick promotion. In almost every case indigenous people are moved into the money economy without the means to participate in it fully. They become permanently indentured as park rangers (never wardens), porters, waiters, harvesters, or, if they manage to learn a European language, ecotour guides. Under this model, “conservation” edges ever closer to “development”, while native communities are assimilated into the lowest ranks of national cultures. Given this history, it should be no surprise that tribal peoples regard conservationists as just another colonizer–an extention of the deadening forces of economic and cultural hegemony.

Later, Dowie describes the growing realization among some conservationists that national parks and protected areas surrounded by angry, hungry people are doomed to fail.

More and more conservationists seem to be wondering how, after setting aside a “protected” land mass the size of Africa, global biodiversity continues to decline: might there be something terribly wrong with this plan? This question is particularly apt since the Convention on Biological Diversity has documented the astounding fact that in Africa, where so many parks and reserves have been created, and where indigenous evictions run highest, 90% of biodiversity lies outside of protected areas. If we want to preserve biodiversity in the far reaches of the globe, places that are in may cases still occupied by indigenous people living in ways that are ecologically sustainable, history is showing us that the dumbest thing we can do is kick them out.

As I reflected on this, I thought about the cultures described in Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, and our own culture here in the U.S. and how we think about “the environment”. We have something called the Environmental Protection Agency, and state environmental departments. Politicians call for “protecting the environment” like it is separate from us. Part of sustainability, I believe, is way deeper than architecture and technology and polices, it is a reconception of our place in space.  Carolyn Merchant, in her incredible book Ecological Revolutions, Nature, Gender, and Science in New England, describes our movement into a new consciousness, in which our thinking becomes integrated with nature or as she puts it becomes “mind in nature”.

As we begin to see space as house, as oikos, we will reduce the clutter of our culture, and reduce our ecological footprint. I believe this has now started and is evident in the fourth trend—the rise of the City.

In The City, A Global History, by Joel Kotkin, he describes the “Urban Future”, in which there are two kinds of cities—one that is “ephemeral”, with an economy focused on entertainment, tourism, and creative functions, while the other is focused on these as well as mundane industries, basic education, and infrastructure.

To avoid the pitfalls of an epemeral future, cities must emphasize those basic elements long critical to the making of vital commercial places. A busy city must be more than a construct of diversions for essentially nomadic populations; it requires an engaged and committed citizenry with a long-term financial and familial stake in the metropolis. A successful city must be home not only to edgy clubs, museums, and restaurants, but also to specialized industries, small businesses, schools, and neighborhoods capable of regenerating themselves for the next generation.

Cities can thrive only be occupying a sacred place that both orders and inspires the complex natures of gathered masses of people. For five thousand years or more, the human attachment to cities has served as the primary forum for political and material progress. It is in the city, this ancient confluence of the sacred, safe, and busy, where humanity’s future will be shaped for centuries to come.

To Kotkin’s great conclusion I add that if we are to find a way to provide other species freedom to roam on the wildlife corridors essential to their survival, we need to figure out how we can live in a way that we are in-nature, creating our economy, and every other cultural expression of human endeavor in partnership and in reciprocity.

This is our charge. Soon, we will launch the next version of this site, and I hope with the new tools we provide, we will help to move this great endeavor along.

- Michael Collins


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